Music & Piracy in a New Generation.

This is something I wrote for a university essay last November, but I felt that since I blog about music from time to time, that I may as well post it!

Illegal downloading is a huge problem that threatens most of our creative industries in today’s society. Millions are lost everyday in the constant battle of Copyright vs. The Consumer. There are hundreds of ways in which to obtain such content illegally, making the practice almost impossible to defeat. In recent months there has been much in the headlines regarding all of the media and controversy surrounding the Swedish torrent sharing website, ‘The Pirate Bay’.

The Pirate Bay is a Swedish website that indexes and tracks BitTorrent (.torrent) files. It is ranked as the 107th most popular website in the world. (Alexa Internet – February 2009) According to the Los Angeles Times, The Pirate Bay is “one of the world’s largest facilitators of illegal downloading”, and “the most visible member of a burgeoning international anti-copyright or pro-piracy-movement”. (L.A. Times -2008-09-28) Initially established in November 2003 by the Swedish anti-copyright organisation Piratbyrån (The Piracy Bureau) the website is run as a separate organisation since October 2004. The website is run by Gottfrid Svartholm (anakata) and Fredrik Neij (TiAMO), who have both been charged with “assisting in making copyrighted content available” due to their involvement in The Pirate Bay.(‘The Pirate Bay’ – Wikipedia)

With ‘The Pirate Bay’ millions of users worldwide have availed of free music, movies, software, and anything else users have felt like posting on the website. The Pirate Bay’s claim is that it cannot be held responsible for what users post and that they do not host any content, they merely provide links to said material. Supposedly making them innocent.

In January 2009, the Irish ISP Eircom was taken to court by the four large music labels EMI, Sony, Universal Music Group and Warner Music Group in order to have the ISP monitor its customers and spot illegal file sharing. The parties reached a settlement to introduce a three strikes policy to disconnect customers involved in copyright infringing activity. The Irish Recorded Music Association continues to negotiate with other ISPs for a similar agreement. As of 1st September 2009 Eircom has blocked access to The Pirate Bay. (‘The Pirate Bay’ – Wikipedia.org)

In my opinion this is a blatant abuse of human right. In the sense that larger bodies of people are trying to monitor and restrict what a person chooses to do online. The ‘Big Brother’ of the internet some might say. If it becomes okay to dictate internet activity, how can we be sure that it won’t slowly increase and branch out into other aspects of communication and life? Maybe that’s just me being paranoid and whipping the conspiracy theories out, but if China can impose such huge restrictions on the worlds largest nation it clearly can’t be that impossible.

The apparatus of the PRC’s Internet repression is considered more extensive and more advanced than in any other country in the world. The regime not only blocks website content but also monitors the internet access of individuals. Amnesty International notes that China “has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world.” The offences of which they are accused include communicating with groups abroad, opposing the persecution of the Falun Gong, signing online petitions, and calling for reform and an end to corruption. (‘Internet Censorship in the People’s Republic of China’Wikipedia.org)

Of course it goes without saying that it is most certainly copyright infringement to download a film, album or song  without paying for it. As someone who wants to work in the film industry I am fully aware of the threat it provides to my aspiring career. However, downloading and file sharing is not just going to cease. It has come into practice worldwide and has even become socially acceptable among some artists. For example, Radiohead who allowed their album ‘In Rainbows’ to be downloaded at whatever price the buyer wished to pay for it. With some users choosing to pay nothing at all. (Radiohead later said they made more money from this method than from what they would have made had they gone through EMI.) Which leads me to think that the real problem with downloading music for example, lies within the record labels themselves, ‘The money making machine’ if you will. In order to eliminate illegal downloading, the entire music industry needs to be reformed. Extortionate prices need to stop being charged for their product.

The days of charging for music are coming to an end.  Record labels have realised this, and of course, have come up with an idea to combat it. Case in point: Warner Music are now pushing for a music tax. This isn’t the first time someone has suggested a music tax, many people have said it before, however Warner are making steps to try and achieve it. The tax would come in the form of a $5 charge per month from everyone.(‘Warner’s Music Tax’ – PC Mag) In total it would generate $20 billion annually for the Recorded Music Industry in the U.S. alone, and guess what? That’s double, yes double what the industry currently makes. (Roughly $10 billion annually.)(‘Music Industry Stats’ – docstop.com)

While it might seem like the perfect quick fix, it could potentially destroy everything we love about music. Innovation would be completely destroyed and the process would become a set industry with no reason to serve niche markets. They would be making their money anyway so there would be no incentive to push new artists, while current hits/acts would be milked stone dry.  On top of that taxes would of course be raised once the industry claims there is not enough money to sustain themselves.

In reality, the internet and free downloading is the perfect tool to take over the industry. Artists will no longer have to rely on labels to be heard, as MySpace Music has demonstrated over the last several years, and there won’t be an issue of artists not owning the copyright to their own music. Of course the money being made won’t be as comfortable as labels have created, however, there is still money to be made in promotions, concerts, events and merchandise.

As for the film industry, I think they’re fairly safe for now considering  the fact that most downloads are poor quality versions shot by a camcorder inside a cinema, but sooner or later the prices of DVDs, Blueray, Cinema tickets etc. Will almost certainly come into question, and I think the industry needs to be prepared for this so that they don’t meet the same fate as the music industry. I believe that The Pirate Bay is only the tip of this pyramid.

By Amy Coyle.

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